Back when I was in my bleakest phase of depression, I used to say to people offering to help, ‘No, it’s fine. I chose to have them, I should be able to cope with them and should not be relying on other people to bail me out.’ Sound familiar to anyone?
And it’s not just mothers who feel it’s unfair having family and friends help them out with their children. I know of a few mothers who have told me that their own mums don’t help them out and why should they? They’ve done their child-rearing, and besides ‘I chose to have them’.
On top of that, let’s face it, children and families aren’t exactly welcomed in our culture. Children tend to be seen as an irritation to the general public. I remember have a student nurse placement in a nursery school where they were trying to keep the children quiet in playtime because some of the neighbours had complained about the sound of happy children playing!
Employers, despite being required by law in the UK to consider flexible working requests by parents, seem to frequently have an attitude of ‘well it’s not my problem. You chose to push out the sprogs, it’s up to you to find solutions when they’re ill/on holiday etc.’
The other evening my husband and I watched the tv documentary ‘Trevor McDonald Inside Death Row’. It was such a tragic programme to me, because of how young many of these violent criminals were when they had their lives cut short. You may think ‘hang on! It’s their victims who had their lives cut short!’ but really both the perpetrator and the person they killed are victims in most of these situations.
They are victims of a society that pigeonholes and judges children before they’ve even started out in life. They are victims of a society that tells some children they are worthless simply because of the colour of their skin or the trailer their parents live in. They are victims of a society that washes their hands of them; a society that doesn’t give a shit about them, so why should they give a shit about society?
And that’s really what it all boils down to. These middle aged men said it themselves: ‘I just didn’t care about anything’. But why? These men weren’t born evil, because if they were, then why don’t we have such levels of violence in every country in the world? These men were told as children, either explicitly or implicitly that at some point they will turn out bad and end up in prison. And then we are surprised to find we have such high levels of violence and anti-social behaviour in the West.
By not valuing children as a society, we create adults who don’t value society. When society decides not to care about children, we teach them not to care about society. In their minds their lives are already mapped out for them by their communities. They’re losers, and will never come to anything, so why bother caring about not killing for drug money? Why bother caring about the life of a police officer when you’re trying to escape? Why bother caring about who gets hurt as you find ways to vent your anger at the world?
This is why we awakened parents must be the change we wish to see in the world, and start modelling a pattern of behaviour where we do expect the rest of our community to support us as we raise our children and we need to teach our communities why it is important for them to support parents.
Ask for help from friends and family and tell them what help you need, and don’t apologise! Be polite, of course, but be honest: ‘I’m struggling to keep on top of the washing – could you take a load a week for me to try in your tumble drier?’: ‘I can’t work out why my son’s so miserable at the moment – could you talk to him? Offer him another non-parental ear?’
And pay it forward by doing the same when you’re able to (but not before!). Offer your neighbour-with-a-new-baby a cup of tea and take food round to her, and maybe she’ll do the same to another new mum in a year or two. Offer a kind word to that mother with the screaming baby and tantrumming toddler, or offer to mind her bags and buggy so she can concentrate on the important stuff.
Actually, I think we’ve come so far from an expectation of help from society, you may find you need to scrap the offering, and just go full whack with insisting. Buy a bottle of water for that breastfeeding mum on the bench and give it to her with a smile.
And spread the word. Speak out when you hear people moaning about children and remind them who these ‘annoying’ children will be one day, and what the world’s attitude to them will teach them. Tell new parents why it’s important to accept, or even expect, help from their family and friends. Tell them not to feel guilty, because, while it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it definitely takes a village to raise a caring, compassionate, Generation Peace adult, and the more we have of them, the better the world will be! It’s not just parents who are responsible for raising a generation of peaceful, compassionate people, but the whole of society.